Warren Dared Pence to Protect Arbitration Rule Before Senators Killed It

Vice president needed to cast a late-night vote to break the tie

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren focused her attention on President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in a speech before the vote on killing the CFPB rule. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren focused her attention on President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in a speech before the vote on killing the CFPB rule. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted October 24, 2017 at 10:27pm

Just before Vice President Mike Pence arrived to cast the tie-breaking vote to upend a banking rule limiting arbitration clauses, Sen. Elizabeth Warren dared him to vote against the wishes of Senate Republicans.

“Everyone assumes that Mike Pence will side with the big banks, and I have just one simple question: Why? President Trump, Mike Pence works for you. His job is to cast his vote the way that you tell him to cast it,” the Massachusetts Democrat said. “You’ve gone on and on and on about how strong you are, how tough you are, and how you are going to stand up to Wall Street. Well, this bill is a giant wet kiss to Wall Street.”

Through hours of debate in which Democrats spoke far more than Republicans, it was Warren who made the most direct connection to President Donald Trump and his administration, in what felt like a salvo in a broader campaign to cry foul about the president’s messaging.

In a speech that seemed designed for the unlikely possibility that Trump might have been watching C-SPAN2 on a White House television, Warren also sought to stir up GOP divisions.

“Do you work for Mitch McConnell now, is that the deal?” she said, addressing the president. “I keep hearing that you and Steve Bannon are going to remake the Republican Party into a party that stands up to Wall Street. Steve Bannon works with the white supremacists, but hey, he says he’s going to help you drain the swamp, right? Well, where is the all-powerful Steve Bannon now? Where is he to tell Mike Pence and Donald Trump that they don’t work for Mitch McConnell?”

In the end, Pence did vote to kill the rule by a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, an expedited process that allowed just a simple majority of senators to stop the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. The measure passed 51-50.

Two Republicans, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, joined the 48 members of the Democratic conference in voting against the joint resolution. 

Republicans, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, contended that the rule benefited trial lawyers and that actual consumers seldom received much in the way of benefits from class-action lawsuits.

“We passed this Congressional Review Act resolution to protect consumers from wrong doing, while avoiding frivolous lawsuits that will only drive up costs for the millions of Americans who carry a credit card,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement after the vote. “The CFPB continues to be one of the most unaccountable bureaucracies in Washington and this Congress will continue to stand up for consumers even when the CFPB will not.”

Pence needed to make the trip to the Capitol shortly before 10 p.m. at the end of one of the Senate’s strangest and most chaotic days in recent memory because New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, whose federal corruption trial is still ongoing, made the trip back to D.C. from Newark in time for the vote.

The bureau’s rule, finalized in July, prohibits financial service and product providers, such as banks, from using a pre-dispute arbitration agreement to block consumer class-action lawsuits and requires most providers to insert language into their arbitration agreements reflecting that prohibition.

The CFPB said the rule was based on findings made during a three-year study that pre-dispute arbitration agreements were being widely used to prevent consumers from seeking relief from legal violations on a class basis, and that consumers rarely filed individual lawsuits or arbitration cases to obtain relief.

Senate adoption of the joint resolution sends the disapproval measure on to Trump for his expected signature.

Steven Harras and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.